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COMMISSION WON'T LICENSE AREA PSYCHICS CITY TO CRACK DOWN ON THOSE USING ILLEGAL SEER SCAMS.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew and James Nash Staff Writers

Despite concerns that fortune tellers fleece residents of thousands of dollars, the Los Angeles Police Commission refused Tuesday to regulate the industry, saying that would merely legitimize a questionable line of work.

The panel vowed to crack down on - and even ban - commercial soothsayers, but shot down a proposal to license them.

``If I have a license from the city of Los Angeles, what it tells people is that I'm qualified to read tea leaves, to talk to the dead and to solve your problems,'' Commissioner Rick Caruso said.

``Unless I'm mistaken, there's no basis or validity to what they do - it's all a scam.''

The proposed legislation would have required such businesses to apply for and obtain licenses from the commission. It would have also prohibited fortune telling from midnight to 7 a.m.

While such cities as Riverside and San Francisco require commercial psychics to be licensed, commissioners said such certificates would give them undeserved legitimacy and increase the potential for fraud.

Unscrupulous fortunetellers could even use licenses as a marketing tool, they added.

Detective Robert Haro of the Commercial Crimes Division said his Bunco Unit receives about 50 complaints a year from residents defrauded by fortunetellers. The average loss: $5,000.

Police Commission President David S. Cunningham III suggested a citywide ban on commercial fortune telling, but Commissioner Alan Skobin warned that a ban might trample on the soothsayers' First Amendment rights.

Instead, the commissioners asked Los Angeles police to look into raising penalties for fraudulent operators, consider a disclaimer for licenses that wouldn't imply official endorsement and research ways to make it hard for fortune tellers to do business in Los Angeles.

Most self-proclaimed psychics interviewed declined to comment. Some said that they are honest business people - as opposed to a few bad

``fortune tellers'' - who are being falsely painted with a black brush.

One even praised efforts to regulate the trade.

``I think it's a good idea. They should have done this a long time ago,'' said Christine Miller, a seer at the Psychic Shop in Sherman Oaks.

``You have people coming into this business, they do bad things. They make the rest of us look bad.''

Police said unscrupulous fortune tellers - which include a range of services from crystal gazing to tarot card reading - generally prey on women.

``There's no age limit, no educational limit, they come from all walks of life,'' said Haro of the Bunco Unit. ``A good majority of the time, it involves relationship issues.''

But while a fortune teller may charge a few dollars for an initial visit, some soon suck customers in for months of readings - and thousands of dollars.

``They might say, hey, I see negative energy, a bad aura, evil spirits, your safety's in jeopardy, your family's safety is in jeopardy, you need to come back.

``These people get soaked, some even go bankrupt, or go deep into debt.''

Haro said such tactics amount to theft by false pretenses, or grand theft, a felony. Most go unreported.

Dana Bartholomew, (818) 713-3730

dana.bartholomew(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

A psychic reader's sign hangs along Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 4, 2004
Words:534
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